‘Superhuman’ team of scientists write new book in one weekend

24th November

Writing a book is often a solitary affair taking weeks, months or even years to complete. But a team of scientists led by a University of Hull professor has produced a 250-page book on the powers of superheroes in just one weekend. 

Professor Mark Lorch, co-author of ‘What Superheroes Eat for Breakfast and Other Superpowered Questions’

The book, with the working title of ‘What Superheroes Eat for Breakfast and Other Superpowered Questions’, was completed in just 36 hours by a team of 14 authors and three illustrators.

The writers came together for a ‘book sprint’ at the Salford Science Jam at the Manchester Science Festival. Members of the public were encouraged to wander among the writers and ask questions, some of which made it into the book.

Fuelled by lots of coffee and takeaways, the team of writers churned out 60,000 words and more than 20 illustrations, delving into the science that underpins superhero powers.

Professor Mark Lorch, a leading expert in science communication at the University of Hull, assembled the team of academics from universities across the UK.

The team put in a superhuman effort to get the book written in such a short timescale,” said Professor Lorch.
The process was completely different to locking yourself away in a quiet room and trying to concentrate. It was full of distractions and noisy but it was fun, social and collaborative in a way that traditional writing just isn’t.
If people wanted to know something about a topic or were stuck, they would just yell out to the room and somebody would chip in with the answer.
Most of us were scientists but we didn’t actually know that much about superheroes. Luckily, we had a few real comic book aficionados who could fill in the gaps in our knowledge.
There was lots of coffee and takeaways and the debris built up around us during the weekend.

The book is due to be published by the Royal Society of Chemistry next spring.

Each chapter explains the scientific bases of a superpower, assuming that scientific laws apply to the comic book characters.

Topics tackled by the team included what superheroes eat for breakfast; how to genetically engineer a super soldier; the Hulk’s metabolic processes and the science behind manufacturing super alloys like vibranium and adamantium.

Have you ever wondered how much energy the Human Torch would need to maintain his temperature? The book answers this question and also looks at how superheroes use big data to solve crimes.

Another chapter poses the question – if you were going to be a super villain, what disease would you create? Would you create a zombie apocalypse or would werewolves and vampires be a better way of taking over the world?

Study an MSc in Public Engagement and Science Communication at the University of Hull

Professor Lorch came up with the idea for the ‘book sprint’ after he wrote an article about how many eggs Spiderman would have to eat for breakfast to generate enough protein to create his webs.

The answer, he calculated, was up to 900 a day.

The story, which was written as a way of tackling boredom while he waited in an airport lounge, was picked up by The Times and led to a TEDx talk.

Following its publication, the Royal Society of Chemistry asked him to write a book on superhero science but in doing so he realised he needed his own league of extraordinary scientists to complete the task.

Professor Lorch added:

The book is aimed at fans of comic books and movies. It’s written to be accessible for teenagers upwards. The book isn’t about debunking the science. It’s about trying to explain how the science might work.
  • Professor Lorch will be leading an MSc in Public Engagement and Science Communication, which starts in 2017. The programme will equip science graduates with the practical skills they need to explain complex issues and collaborate effectively in the world of work. Students will get the opportunity to work with professional science communicators, creative writers, theatre performers and journalists - and gain real world experience through a work placement.
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